The last time I wrote about the ups and downs of owning a store with your spouse was fourteen years ago, and I’m happy to say that Dean and I are still at it. Orange Tree Imports just celebrated its 47th year of business on Monroe Street in Madison, WI.  Dean came into business with me full time a year after our store opened – so both our marriage and our business partnership are closing in on the 50 year milestone.  

Your partner may not be your spouse, but the issues involved in sharing ownership of a small business are undoubtedly similar no matter who the other person is. Whether you’ve started out with a fellow shopkeeper, or are considering taking on a partner (or two) because of current challenges, there are a number of factors to consider.

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Here are some of the advantages of not going solo:

  1. Each individual brings different skills and ideas to the business.
  2. Both partners usually contribute monetarily, which is helpful unless you share joint finances.
  3. Taking vacations and being gone for other reasons (such as medical leave) is easier if you have a partner.
  4. When your energy and spirits are low, the other person may be able to lift them – or help you take time off for self care.
  5. Succession planning may be easier if one partner is able to buy the other one out.

Of course, working with a partner does have disadvantages as well:

  1. Not everyone will contribute equally in terms of time and money. It helps to spell out these expectations in writing.
  2. Your skills are bound to be different.  Having duties aligned with your strengths will contribute to your success.
  3. It may be difficult to manage the work/life balance if you are spouses.
  4. If one of you is not a good communicator, this could lead to misunderstandings.
  5. It’s essential that your goals for the business are aligned, and if they are not you may have to compromise.

We have learned the importance of having separate areas of responsibility.  We trust each other, and try not to second guess each other’s decisions. We’ve also both agreed never to air any conflicts in front of customers or employees.

I concluded my blog in 2008 by saying “One of the advantages of working with your spouse is the time you get to spend with each other, working toward a common goal. There are long hours to be put in, especially when your store is new, but at least you’ll be doing it together.” Happily that’s as true for us now as it was then!

Happy retailing, 

Carol “Orange” Schroeder